By Curt Yeomans
Kevin Fitzgerald was in the fourth grade when he began commuting on his bike.
The Atlanta Transit System had a bus route, which would take Fitzgerald from his home in College Park to St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Hapeville.
The pick-up times at each location were changed, however, and Fitzgerald would have to wait at a bus stop for up to 40 minutes, if he continued using the bus to commute between home and school.
He decided biking would be a more effective, and healthier, way to make the commute.
As the price of gas goes up, Fitzgerald, now 51, is reducing his gas bill, because he commutes from his home in Forest Park to Clayton State University at least three times a week on one of his 10 bikes.
Fitzgerald estimates he commuted 16 miles on his bike last week before he left for Claxton, Ga., to participate in a 100-mile bike ride over the weekend.
"I can go places and get exercise at the same time, and it's very economical, if you don't mess up your bike," Fitzgerald said.
"I'm going to keep riding my bike every where as long as I'm healthy, and can keep good balance,"
Fitzgerald's commitment to riding his bike to work, where he is an information technology specialist, has made him a celebrity, of sorts, at Clayton State, according to John Shiffert, a spokesman for the university.
"Everybody knows Kevin, because they see him riding his bike around campus so much," Shiffert said.
Fitzgerald's penchant for riding his bike to work also got him nominated this fall as a finalist for a Clean Air Campaign PACE Award, in the Commuter Champion category. He was nominated for the award by Joan Murphy, an administrative assistant in the university's public safety office. Fitzgerald didn't win the award at the banquet on Oct. 18, but he doesn't mind.
"The woman who won commutes on her bike from midtown [Atlanta] to Alpharetta every day," Fitzgerald said. "In my opinion, she was very deserving, because that's a long haul to make."
Murphy expressed similar thoughts in a press release issued by the university after the awards banquet. "To be nominated by The Clean Air Campaign for one of their awards is definitely an award in itself," she said.
Fitzgerald is a member of four riding groups -- the Southern Bicycle League, the Atlanta Bicycle Campaign, the League of American Bicyclists, and the Adventure Cycling Association. He has made a four-day biking trip to Panama City twice in his lifetime, and spent three months in 1986 bicycling from Oregon to Virginia on a tandem -- a two-seat bicycle.
"We slept [in sleeping bags] in camping grounds, public parks, and occasionally someone's house," Fitzgerald said. "This was also before people had cell phones, so we had to use pay phones a lot. There was one town in Idaho where you had to go through a switchboard operator. I remember telling her the phone number to dial, and she said 'Where's the 404 area code located at? I'm not familiar with that one.' "
These days, Fitzgerald prefers to ride on his recumbent bike, a low gravity bike which he described as being like "riding a recliner down the street."
When asked if he thought more people would start commuting to and from work every day on their bikes because of rising gas prices, Fitzgerald said he wasn't sure a change is on the horizon. He feels it will depend on where the person lives, and where his, or her job is located.
"I think some people who live close to their job will try it," Fitzgerald said. "If they have a long commute, though, they may not want to try it, because they might be intimidated by the idea of riding a bike on highways and on the interstate."